A friend of mine recently attempted to get to the bottom of the endless alphabet soup of acronyms swirling around the Brexit debate. There are various campaign groups and hashtags with overlapping aims and aloof attitudes towards explaining who funds them, including: ‘OFOC’ (Our Future Our Choice), ‘AEIP’ (Another Europe is Possible), ‘WATON’ (We Are the Opposition Now), #FBPE (Follow Back Pro-Europe) and PCPEU (sadly not drug-related, but Pro-Corbyn, Pro-EU). The hashtags bounce around the Twittersphere punctuating user bios and trailing people’s screen names as political medals. He gave up: deciding that for Brexit, as almost everyone in the country would agree, only one acronym accurately depicts his general thoughts at this juncture: WTF.
No one really has a particular clue what is happening, even though it’s my literal job. But then no one in Number 10 Downing Street does either. Michael Gove spent Monday morning stating clearly, again and again, that the Tuesday ‘Meaningful Vote’ was absolutely, definitely going ahead. Just before lunchtime, a No 10 press officer told the assembled political journalists in the lobby that the vote was going ahead, no matter what. At the same time, another No 10 staff member told other political journalists that Theresa May was pulling the vote. Schrodinger’s vote existed for around half an hour, both alive and dead, until May killed it, confirming there would be no vote, as she was bound to lose it. The prime minister would make a statement at 3.30pm.
Outside parliament, on the oblong grass verge known as College Green, journalists, MPs and presenters huddled against the cold, atop huge aerial platforms that are usually erected for rare political events that dominate the headlines. I’ve spent more time on College Green than in the office for the past few weeks, and have had far more producers manhandle my bra to pin microphone wires to, than interested men over my lifetime. Brexit pins us there permanently now, endlessly trying to make sense of what on earth is happening for the public, while bumping up the profits of the local Pret, and spending more and more of our earnings on Uniqlo heat teach thermals to stop us freezing to death.
Each day, alongside the politicians and frostbitten journalists, are the protestors: decked out in EU flags, berets, with placards of different heights, to force their way into shots on the ground and on raised platforms. As many tourists ask the hardened protestors for selfies as cajole Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg into their phone viewfinders. This gaggle of disparate people have essentially given up their lives to stand in Parliament Square shouting “STOP BREXIT” at any point a radio or TV microphone might pick up their cries. Sometimes the message is that simple; other times people are pushing for a rerun of the election, the so-called ‘People’s Vote’, which today incorporated a string quartet and choir singing a rewritten version of “Ode to Joy.”
— Unity (@UKunityorg) December 10, 2018
Their presence only adds to the sense that the entire country has entirely lost its mind over Brexit. Two years of constant political arguments and very little progress has come to a head. Sniping and prodding at people all night inevitably culminates in a pub fight: the aggression has now tipped over and Brexit has reached the stage where there is no option but to step outside, push up your sleeves and prepare to land a punch. But May has spun around at the last minute to avoid a humiliating defeat, announcing in a wobbly speech that the speech would be postponed, but refusing to state the date for the new vote, as MPs on the opposition bench repeatedly shouted: “WHEN?” The prime minister is adamant this deal is the only deal open to the UK, so postponing it makes no sense, unless this statement has been a lie, and there is more wiggle room.
The country is simultaneously bored senseless and yet completely consumed by the spectacle of Brexit. The fraught carnival outside parliament every day feels like a microcosm of the wider public debate. Leave or Remain, people want some closure around Brexit, to either crash out of the EU, or accept it is not possible to leave without jeopardising the Good Friday Agreement as a result. May’s government is completely paralysed – the DUP, whose loyalty cost £1bn, have abandoned the Conservatives over the Irish backstop.
The country as a collective is being driven insensible by the stultifying grind of it all, and needs to move on. The only way to do that is to move to a general election, and let the electorate vote in a government who can actually manage the basic task of governing. Please, Theresa – put us all out of our misery.
Follow Dawn Foster on Twitter.